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DONKEYS STILL TALKHearing God's Voice When You're Not Listening
By VIRELLE KIDDER
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2004 Virelle Kidder
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSADDLED UP AND GOING NOWHERE
IT BEGAN SO well. A sunny spring morning flooded our living room with promise. With a grand holiday weekend planned, Steve and I kick-started the day, rushing through breakfast and devotions and divvying up the list of tasks to be completed before several of our kids and grandkids showed up later that afternoon. The house was clean; food was in the fridge. We each had just enough time to finish our handful of "must-do's" before everyone arrived.
Although I had long been in the habit of asking for God's blessing on my day, I had little flexibility that day for a real God-encounter. Frankly, it would have been more convenient had He waited until the following week, but I'm learning that God sends His donkeys into my life exactly on schedule whether I'm ready for them or not.
"Hold it right there," you might be saying. "Donkeys? What donkeys?"
Oh, yes-donkeys. Even though they come in disguises, they're as real as you and I. Did I mention that they talk, too? Our donkeys remind us to listen for God's voice, to focus on Jesus, and to trust Him to give us everything we need for the journey. They carry us places we never would have imagined. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back to that day a few years ago when a very unwelcome donkey arrived at my door out of nowhere. It messed up everything.
God Knows How to Get Our Attention
It was lunchtime and I had just bolted down a container of strawberry yogurt in the post office parking lot. I remember like it was yesterday looking into the rearview mirror and noticing something was wrong with one side of my face. The signs of paralysis were unmistakable, and I knew instantly either I was having a stroke or this was Bell's palsy again. I called Steve first and then our family doctor. The message from both was insistent: Drive, if you are able, to the doctor's office now!
Steve met me there, and within a couple of hours we were both home again, diagnosis and medication in hand, just in time to greet our children.
"Oh, Mom! What happened?" Lauren and Michael folded me together in a long, tight hug. That's when the tears finally came. I'll never forget my eighteen-month-old grandson, Thane, sadly studying my poker face, as if to say, "Why can't you smile, Nana?"
The next morning, more family had arrived, and I looked and felt much worse. While the kids made breakfast and their voices filled the house like yesterday's sunshine, I locked the bathroom door and leaned forward to study myself in the mirror, tears outlining the strangely fallen features on the right side of my face. In its second swipe since my teen years, Bell's palsy jeered at me again, this time with full vengeance. Besides the fact that I looked awful, painful swelling exploded behind my right ear, an exhausting schedule loomed in the weeks and months ahead, and I couldn't speak, smile, or eat without drooling.
Bell's palsy was definitely not on my agenda, but most everything else was. I had prayerfully agreed to a heavy ministry load that spring, closely dovetailing speaking engagements and writing projects that all involved hours of preparation. I was sure God wanted me to do each one. Now this! How did He expect me to do it? Suddenly, I remembered a fellow speaker who once had to do a retreat with no front teeth after the dentist made a mistake fixing her bridge. Humbling didn't begin to cover it. God couldn't possibly want me to speak with a slur and a drool, could He? I don't mind hard work, but humiliation wasn't on my to-do list. Knowing this condition might last months or never even heal at all, I stared into the mirror and groaned at the prospect of looking like this for a long, long time.
Here we go again, I thought. I strained for a sense that God was really with me, that He cared about my life, that He really loved me. Once more I found myself feeling confused because God didn't seem near and the things He allowed seemed hurtful and even unkind. Little did I know that I was about to have another life-altering encounter with the living God.
Is God responsible for every donkey that comes to our door? I'm not sure. Sometimes difficulties, like the wicked insect bite that kept me awake last night, seem to show up just to complicate our lives; they're simply part of living in an imperfect world. But I am convinced that God can use every donkey that comes our way for a very good purpose: to carry us to a new listening place where we can hear His voice in a life-transforming way.
Don't Pin the Blame on Your Donkey
Walk back with me in the Old Testament to Numbers 22, where I first became familiar with donkeys that talk.
Balaam was no rocket scientist as a prophet. He set out on a mission he believed God intended, and he was determined to carry it out, even if it became abundantly obvious that God might have had a different plan in mind. (This sounds uncomfortably familiar.) It all began with a big problem, as many encounters with God do. Here is the greatly abbreviated "Virelle's Standard Version" of Balaam and the donkey that told him what for.
The Israelites were busy doing exactly what they were supposed to do. While no one was looking, they multiplied like rabbits into a vast, numberless people. Furthermore, with Moses and Aaron leading them, they were on a winning streak, as everyone in their path found out. Balak, the king of Moab, looked out his window one day and couldn't finish his lunch when he saw them. He knew his days were numbered if he could not find a clever way to defeat this mob. And so he did what all sharp kings did in those days: He sent messengers to someone he thought had influence at times like these. Off they went with money in their pockets to find the questionable prophet Balaam.
The message from Balak was simple: "Curse these Israelites for me so I can get them out of my hair! I know everyone you curse is cursed and everyone you bless is blessed." A little flattery was bound to work.
Balaam thought for a moment and told the messengers, "Stay here overnight. I have to ask the Lord."
God appeared to Balaam during the night and asked, "Who are these men with you?" Now, I can't figure out why God had to ask this. Maybe to see if Balaam really knew what was going on. But God's directive was crystal clear: "Do not go with them. You shall not curse these people. They are blessed."
In the morning, Balaam shoved his hands into his empty pockets, looked at the ground, and said to the Moabite messengers, "Go on home. God won't let me go."
Now, kings are not accustomed to taking "no" for an answer, especially when the stakes are as high as their own hides. So Balak raised the incentive and sent princes this time, along with the promise of lots of money. Balaam, perspiring, protested loudly, "No matter how much you offer me, I won't go against what the Lord says! But stay here, and I'll ask anyway."
It would feel like turning down the California lottery. In Balaam's greedy little heart, he must have wanted God to change His mind-just this once. What's one small curse among so many victories? Then came the test.
God spoke once again to Balaam at night. This time the message contained one important change: "Go with them, but do only what I tell you." Could it be that God was changing His mind? Balaam must have wondered. Maybe this will be my lucky break. I can retire, move to the ocean, and be done with all this prophet stress. Just one small curse is all it would take. The next morning, he saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.
And God was angry-very angry. He waited for Balaam up the road, His sword drawn.
It always seemed unfair to me that God was angry. After all, hadn't He told Balaam to go? Why get mad? The guy was just doing what he was told! It would have been okay for God to be angry if He were like you and me, but God can see the secret thoughts and intentions of the heart. When He looked inside Balaam's heart, He saw something that didn't belong in someone carrying His message. It could have been greed or willfulness or arrogance or self-reliance. God wanted Balaam to get the message that he needed to stop in his tracks before continuing on with his misguided personal agenda, but only the donkey was listening.
When the little beast first saw God in the road, sword drawn, she quickly turned aside. Balaam lost no time whipping her back onto the path. Soon the path became narrower and ran down between two vineyards with a wall on either side. When the donkey looked up and saw the Lord again, she slammed so hard into the wall that Balaam's foot was crushed. He hit her even harder this time.
Let me stop for a moment and ask those of you who would like to grab that whip and smack the daylights out of Balaam for hitting his donkey: Have you ever confronted a big obstacle in your own path and done something similar? Maybe you don't beat your pets or kick your tires, but how about the way most of us behave when things don't go according to our best-laid plans? Too often, long before we look up to see if God is seeking an encounter with us, we've asked everyone we know and contacted every prayer chain across the country to pray against our donkey's behavior. When that doesn't change things, we claim Scripture verses over it, pray harder, rebuke the Devil, put on sackcloth and ashes. If we're honest about our motives, we might find that our "spiritual" responses to problems aren't much different from Balaam's reaction of beating his donkey.
The third time the angel of the Lord appeared, He stood in the path so there was nowhere else to turn. The donkey lay right down under Balaam. That was it! Balaam had put up with this long enough. He took his staff and viciously whacked the donkey one more time.
With that, God gave the donkey a voice. I wish I could have seen Balaam's face! (This part of the story reminds me that God is the original animal lover!)
"What have I done to you that you have hit me these three times?" the donkey brayed loudly. Brilliant Balaam still didn't get it. He answered her like this chat was normal.
"You made a fool out of me!" he screamed, red-faced. "If I had a sword, I would kill you!"
"Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?" the donkey reasoned, pointing her ears ahead on the path, as if to say, "Look up there, stupid!"
"Well, no," replied Balaam as he finally looked from the donkey to the place where the path narrowed. He squinted. Funny, it looks strangely bright up there, he thought, shielding his eyes from the penetrating rays. Was it this bright the last time I was here? I don't think so.
"Then the Lord opened Balaam's eyes," Scripture tells us, "and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown" (Numbers 22:31). That is exactly how any of us should be when God meets us on our paths: prone, silent, listening. The Father of Lights, the Eternal I AM, has something to say. Nothing else matters. Balaam, trembling, bowed low in the dust and finally listened to God.
"Why have you beaten your donkey these three times?" God asked Balaam. "I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her" (verses 32-33).
Don't you love the fact that God defends the donkey first? In effect, He's saying, "You foolish person, didn't you know this donkey was honoring Me more than you by refusing to do what you wanted? She was the righteous one and you were the real jackass!"
Balaam, shaking in the dust, groveled in fear and admitted, "I have sinned. I didn't know it was You. If You want me to go back, I'll go back."
God's reply was brief and His terms no-nonsense. "Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you." Questionable as Balaam's credentials were, he was on a God-mission now and his life was clearly at stake as much as the Moabites' lives were.
My guess is that when Balaam finally got up from the ground and approached his donkey, he had some big-time apologizing to do before he hoisted himself into her saddle again. When I've been mad at one of my donkeys-whether it was a young husband who didn't yet share my faith, a teenager who was driving me up the wall, or a nagging health issue-my attitude has changed dramatically when God "opened my eyes" like He did Balaam's. If you'd like to know "the rest of the story" (and it's a good one!), including what happens when Balaam finally shows up to meet King Balak of Moab, you can read about it in Numbers, chapters 23-24. It's a page-turner in which God, the real Hero, wins again.
"Speak, Lord-I'm Listening."
Words matter a lot to God. They give life.
When Jesus confronted the Devil in the wilderness, He used these words: "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). He wasn't kidding. If we miss God's words to us, we miss the life He wants us to lead in this world. We miss His will; we lose our way; we miss intimacy with Him. Those are very big things to miss. And so God, in love, engineers a meeting. He uses the circumstances of our lives to "hem us in, behind and before" (see Psalm 139:5). He sends a donkey that will get our attention and direct us to the life-giving messages God has for us personally.
"What are you trying to tell me, Lord?" I sniffed at the red-nosed, pathetic face staring back at me in the bathroom mirror. "You've got my attention."
Adversity isn't getting any easier, but after thirty years of following Christ, I'm learning where to turn first. Wiping away my tears on the sleeve of my robe, I asked Him point-blank, "What is it You want me to hear?"
If you are a speaker and God paralyzes part of your mouth, it is a safe assumption that He has something to say. Of that I was sure. I was not aware of any unconfessed sin, but then, it's easy to be blind to our own sin, isn't it? I knew the truth was coming.
I continued to stare into the mirror at my lopsided face. I was going nowhere until I heard God speak. I knew He would, but I wasn't sure how or when or through whom. Waiting is what I least like about following God. It's entirely unnatural for someone whose planner is packed full every day.
God certainly doesn't always speak to me so clearly and directly, but I heard a soft whisper in my heart: "Virelle, where are you going?" (Didn't He ask Balaam something similar?)
"Well, I thought I was on Your mission, Lord," I answered.
"That's true, you are," He said. "I have a perfect plan for your life.
Excerpted from DONKEYS STILL TALK by VIRELLE KIDDER Copyright © 2004 by Virelle Kidder. Excerpted by permission.
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